National Geographic Photo of the Day

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 3 (16th June 2009)

Breakfast and we were in a taxi to the outskirts of Pattaya. Got to the “Million Years Stone Park and Crocodile Farm” at 10.30am. Went in and got onto a toy train which took us around the park (read – huge area of 70 acres). This park has a large variety of fossilized wood and big rocks that are nearly a million years old – all in different shapes and sizes.

There was this guy who threw in some fish food – frankly, it looked like pellets of Pedigree dog food – didn't know how those fish would get something that big down their throats. And then...... my question was answered. Out of the water from amongst the smaller fish arose 10 or 15 gigantic catfish, consumed the pellets and then became shadows beneath the surface once again. They were huge, almost as big as a shark.

Next, we saw a large number of crocodiles in a similar pond and the food that was thrown to them was gulped down whole.

There we watched a crocodile show. The show takes place in a big arena with different tiers of raised seating on the sides and a rectangular area in the middle with glass walls, some water, a cement strip towards the centre and lotsa crocs in it. This guy in a red dress, that we'd associate more readily with a Bruce Lee movie than Steve Irwin's Croc Files, steps out and into the tank while some of use brave souls with cameras stood just outside the glass walls (the walls came only up to my shoulder and we were all holding our digicams over the walls, hence the adjective).

The red dress guy dragged a few crocs about the place by their tails, narrowly avoiding being bitten on several occasions. All the while both he and the announcer went on in Thai, we had absolutely no idea what they were on about. He also put his hand in a crocodile's mouth all the way down to its throat, even removing the flap that seals off a croc's mouth from its throat. On top of that he would run and slide down the wet concrete floor from several metres away (on his belly) and end with his head between a croc's jaws. Now this guy had balls, but I don't see how he's gonna avoid getting them bitten off one day or another. Once the performance was over, we were invited to take a snap sitting on a crocodile.... for a 100 Baht (no picture you take with anything is ever free in Thailand). Took one myself :D

Beyond this croc pen there were elephant stables, with elephants of different sizes – small and large. Bought some bananas and gave a few to all of them. Then took another picture with one of the elephants lifting me up with his powerful trunk. A majestic animal indeed. My last close encounter with an elephant was back in my home state of Kerala (at Thekkady to be specific).

Following this we went around seeing all the wondeful animals they had here – tigers, lions, albino bears, usual bears, albino horses, camels, llamas, hornbills, cockatoos, macaws.... its a long list. A few 100-200 Bahts and a few more photos followed – with a bear, with a cuuuuuute little tiger (who jumped on me when the handler took away his bottle, but he was so cuuute and soft), and with a big Royal Bengal tiger (yes, a live one and she was named “Kamala”). Kamala would have had me for lunch if her handler wasn't there ;) , she was roaring inbetween pictures. But you get the true idea of the power and the majesty when you sit near this wonderful creature. Their numbers are down by about 90percent since the dawn of the century to about 2000 tigers remaining in the wild in India. To think that the Indian subcontinent is one of the last places where the tiger still stands a fighting chance and the Government is in the least bit worried about the sorry state of affairs in National Parks – forest guards defend themselves and the animals from poachers with single-shot rifles older than those of the Mumbai police constables. This is one animal that we cannot afford to lose, something that must be preserved for future generations.

Getting back to the trip, we saw everything that the park had to offer, all kept in neat and very spacious enclosures – unlike Indian zoos, of which Chennai's Anna Zoological Park is one of the better ones. Mum was too scared to sit anywhere near the animals, in her own words “I love animals and I admire them, but I'd rather do the admiring from a distance.” Around 1.30pm we left Million Years Stone Park and went to Pattaya's Walking Street, though we stopped at the entrance of walking street and walked along the Beach instead. Now this is a street which sees a lot of people ... ahem let's say “selling what they've got to offer” once the sun sets. But the stretch extends alongside the beach and you'll find every kind of restaurant you can imagine here – Persian, American, Indian, Japanese, Korean, German, French. There's everything from Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, Ristorante Italiano, Pizza Hut, Subway and other chain stuff to Swensen's Ice Cream (this is paradise I tell you), Food Wave, Deli France, Starbucks, Zen and Aka (Japanese places), and Haagen Daasz. This is just a smaaaaaaal sample of the numerous names here.

If you're shopping for footwear and clothes, you're spoilt for choice with bargains left, right and centre. Of course, I think its cheaper to buy stuff in India if you come from India.

We had lunch at DeliFrance and then went to Swensen's Real American Ice Cream. This is as I said earlier Paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth (I'll let the above images speak for themselves). Just a look at their Ice-cream menu will have you drooling. Our stomachs full, we took a taxi back to the resort at 4pm. It rained after that, and the view from the balcony was wonderful.

We had VIP tickets for the 7.30 show at “Tiffany's”. This is a show full of transvestite actors. Stop... check your thoughts, this isn't what you think. Its a family show (and I don't mean one where you come in alone and go out with a family :P). The actors are all heavily 'modified' – all sorts of cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery from head to toe. Though the brochure says “cabaret”, that doesn't really cover it. The objective of this program is not to arouse you, but to show a vast array of costumes from every part of the world - from Japan, China, India, Russia, Italy, Thailand, The British Empire, America etc - accompanied by the appropriate songs and dances.

In between there are some tongue-in-cheek gags which require audience participation too. The songs are arranged such that you initially have a slower or more traditional dance followed by a cabaret style dance accompanied by a faster beat off music from the same region, with costumes being pretty maleable, they can be modified even during the performance. The synchronous nature of the dance, beautiful sets and the stupendous costumes are indeed the highlight of the show. For us Indians, there was even a performance of “Do laare, Do laare” (complete with a palatial setting and customes) starting with filmi style dance and ending with a cabaret style dance similar to Yeh Mera Dil (though with a huge number of dancers). There were a few tunes of old times like “One Man Woman” and some country hits (both slow and fast). The money paid for the VIP seats was well worth it.

Once Tiffany's was over, we caught a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner at a little Thai restaurant next to the hotel. This was a small family-run place with lotsa animals – a few dogs and cats and cute little kitties too. We spent some time throwing tiny bits of food to a black cat and her kitty until we finished dinner and left.

Another day at Pattaya well spent. Damn, if only Chennai had Swensen's, then you'd hardly find me at college. Unlikely, but a man can dream.


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